Nicomi Stewart, a mother in Rochester, New York, is “disgusted” after an automated call sent to her phone from the city’s school district mispronounced her daughter’s name as a racial slur.
Stewart’s daughter is named Nicarri. Stewart told WHAM TV the message clearly began, “This is Edison Career and Technology High School. Your daughter, N****r, has missed period one on…”
The call came after Nicarri missed a day of class at Edison Career and Technology High School.
The racially insensitive robocall came more than once so Stewart was able to record the message.
“I was like, wow, am I really hearing you correctly, did the machine just say this?” Stewart told WHAM TV. “It was unbelievable. I was shocked. I was disgusted. I was upset.”
Even stranger: Stewart said the robocalls correctly pronounced Nicarri’s name last year.
Although a school administrator told Stewart her daughter’s name would be removed from the automated calling system, she says she’s received at least two other calls that mispronounced her daughter’s name the same way.
“It’s disrespectful and it’s degrading. I don’t even use that word in my house, so why is my child being called this?” Stewart told WHAM TV.
Lawrence Bo Wright, the deputy superintendent of administration for the Rochester City School District, publicly apologized to Stewart.
“Representatives from the district have talked with the family and apologized profusely, as we should,” he told WHAM TV. “We can’t say enough how sorry we are.”
He blamed the issue on a software error with Blackboard Connect, a vendor it contracts with to send out mass notifications.
“It’s very similar to technologies that you use that are centered around GPS, where sometimes the system will have mispronounced a name,” Wright told the station. “And that’s how that occurred.”
When HuffPost contacted Blackboard Connect to get more details on how the reported slur could happen, they responded with this statement:
“Blackboard Connect includes an automated text to speech [TTS] software feature that allows customers to place automated phone calls by entering text. The system automatically generates pronunciations based on typed text. In this case it appears that the system mispronounced the recipient’s child’s name, sounding like a racial slur.
“Blackboard takes this issue very seriously and we are working with the school district and our TTS vendor to correct the problem. We sincerely apologize for this very unfortunate technical issue.”
A company spokesman also expressed regret that WHAM TV bleeped out the supposed slur during its story. He pointed HuffPost to this page that uses the same speech software the company uses in its robocalls and suggested typing out the name of Stewart’s daughter.
Wright promised Stewart the district would only contact the family through a phone call or email until the problem is rectified, but Stewart said she’s still receiving those calls, including one earlier this week.
“They’re making me look like I’m slightly bananas and lying about this, when they’re saying they rectified something they haven’t rectified yet,” Stewart told WHAM TV.